Shout! Factory // 1964 // 780 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 20th, 2009
Before Wisteria Lane, Southfork, 90210, and the Colbys versus the Carringtons...
September 15, 1964 marked the premiere of the first primetime soap opera on ABC. Peyton Place was loosely based on the popular novel by Grace Metalious and a big screen adaptation that was wildly successful on its own terms, and the television show ended up becoming just as beloved. It aired twice weekly in the first year without any repeats, and by the end of the run racked up 514 episodes between 1964 and 1969. No prime time series before or since adhered to this kind of innovative, year-round schedule. Originally, you could find Peyton Place on Tuesday and Thursday nights as part of a daring experiment by its network to put a soap on during the evening. The producers were quick to shun a more common title, instead referring to their creation as a "television novel." It offered something new and exciting that stretched the idea of what a series could be. Peyton Place pushed the moral boundaries of television by incorporating story lines about extramarital affairs, teen pregnancies, family betrayal, mental illness, domestic abuse, and murder. For its era it was a slick and shocking revelation, it established ABC as the number one network, and kicked off many careers. Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby) and Ryan O'Neal (Love Story) both started out as the two central teens the show revolved around, their characters named Allison MacKenzie and Rodney Harrington. Also on board to lend some old school Hollywood glamour was Oscar winner Dorothy Malone (Best Supporting Actress in 1957 for Written on the Wind) starring as Constance MacKenzie. Not to be missed was also a young Barbara Parkins (Valley of the Dolls) who made a huge splash as the dark haired nemesis of her blonde costars, Betty Anderson. Peyton Place was the original Dallas or Desperate Housewives, a pulpy nighttime melodrama fans snuggled down to watch for pure escapism.
The plot is like any soap opera: a labyrinth of twists and turns that defy description. The series starts off with the arrival of a handsome doctor (Ed Nelson, Attack of the Crab Monsters) who has come to Peyton Place to escape the dramas of a big city and start up a quiet practice. A bookstore owner (Malone) and her daughter (Farrow) guarantee he's going to find plenty of turmoil to fill up his pastoral days. His neighbors also all end up not to be the simple folk he was expecting in a sleepy patch of the Northeest. The show gives us glimpses of the lives of the teens and the parents of the quiet New England town that harbors many secrets and betrayals under a shiny veneer of propriety. The central idea is one familiar to most all soaps: an unassuming pastoral paradise is full of secrets and surprises that suggest nowhere is free of scandal and shock. The beautiful residents of Peyton Place are all hiding awful truths they can't bare to have come to light, and of course these secrets always surface. This first set ends on a particularly juicy note as we find out a dark secret of the Dorothy Malone character that devastates her daughter.
Shout! Factory provides us with the first thirty-one episodes for this collection dubbed Peyton Place: Part One. To release the entire run of shows at this rate there will need to be sixteen more sets to cover the series, and part two is already slated for July. Transfers are delivered in a crisp, handsome black and white without any compression problems. The early episodes look to be in surprisingly good condition, but as the set proceeds over thirty shows you notice here and there a twenty minute installment with major damage to the quality of the print. It reminds me a lot of the Dark Shadows DVDs where each episode looks different from the others depending on the condition of the source tapes or films they are using. Surprisingly the DVDs are bare bones without any extras exploring the legacy of Peyton Place. That's a bit of a disappointment since the show changed television, launched many careers, and established a major network.
Peyton Place: Part One is an event DVD for fans of the first true nighttime serialized soap opera. The good news is the pulpy storylines remain intriguing almost fifty years later, and the acting and production values have held up just fine. When compared to my collection of Desperate Housewives DVDs, you can't tell too much difference, except for the black and white glimmering ghosts of young Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal. I imagine that like Dark Shadows this entire run of DVDs will have both rabid fans and new converts waiting with baited breath for the next installment. Hopefully Shout! Factory will find a way to include some extras at some point, but for now five discs with the first thirty-one episodes seems like enough to get us started.
It's a guilty pleasure long overdue on DVD. Peyton Place: Part One is
an excellent way to either start your collection or get hooked.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 780 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated